Daily Journey – April 2018

Daily Journey is a collection of my thoughts from reading The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living.  My objective is to gain greater control of my emotional responses by reading and sharing my thoughts on stoicism with you all everyday over the course of a year.  If you would like to explore these topics with me, and others who are seeking to gain emotional control come over to the Mastery of Skill closed facebook group to join in on the conversation.

Live Skillfully!

-Jon

*****

April 1st – The Color of Your Thoughts

The things we think about persistently have the ability to affect our thoughts, and through our thoughts shape our actions and lives.

If those thoughts are negative and degrading we darken our thoughts over time and become cynical and malcontent.

If our thoughts are positive and uplifting we brighten our minds and over time become optimistic and positive.

What thoughts regularly cross your mind? How are they affecting your life?

April 2nd – Be Wary of What You Let In

What influences do you allow in your life and what do they do to your thoughts and perceptions?

Not all sources of information are worthy of your attention and can have a corrupting influence on your thoughts, and through your thoughts your they can influence your actions.

One of the Stoic practices is intentional ignorance. If you know a certain type of media (reality tv, tabloid news, inflammatory news etc.) can influence your thoughts and actions then you should cut it out of your life.

The same is true for false and toxic people. You can control who you let inside your sphere of influence.

If the source is unworthy, cut it out.

April 3rd – Deceived and Divided

Are your actions at odds with the things you tell yourself you want?
 
If they are you are wither being dishonest with yourself about your true desire or you haven’t taken the time to fully understand what it is you want in the first place.
 
A good example of this was when I was way over-weight and running 4 or more miles a day… “but” I was still eating and drinking whatever (and whenever) I wanted. There were days when I would push myself as hard as possible … and then spend 3 hours watching hulu and eating chips and ice cream.
 
What did I really want? I would say I wanted to loose that extra weight, even though my actions didn’t really support that stated desire.
 
Years later I think realized I literally wanted to have my cake and eat it too. But now I know I can’t. To be healthy I had to control both my exercise and my diet.
 
While I’m not exactly were I want to be, I am better now then I was then. Most importantly I am getting better every day.
 
Take a look at your actions… are they really lined up with your desired outcomes?

April 5th – Trust, But Verify

Misunderstanding of this statement has caused a lot of consternation in my life (and I’m sure in others). I try not confuse the processes going on here. Trust being separate to verification but both playing an interdependent role in the creation of the other…. wait what?
 
For the sake of this discussion lets say that trust is a mechanism of speed in decision making. Without trust a lot of decision making grinds to a halt. But trust doesn’t exist on its own it has a relationship with verification. Without verification I believe your are not really trusting you are gambling… your trust is actually hope (and hope is not a plan).
 
Trust comes from two main sources, it is either referred or observed. Observable trust is built by repeatedly seeing verifiable truth in results. While referred trust comes when a trusted sources refers another source of information to you in order to influence your decision making.
 
An example of observed trust would be that I say I love my kids and I do things that they recognize as signs of me loving them, therefore they trust that I love them. In this case verification fortifies trust and my kids decide that I love them.
 
Referred trust could be a trusted mentor recommending that I go and consult another unknown person on a decision I have to make. The mentors trust in the new source is transferred via our relationship. Again my trust in my mentor fortifies the trust I have in my new source of information.
 
I hope you can see the potential risks in establishing trust. These processes can be (and likely are) manipulated in order to have an effect on your decision making. Actions can be faked, relationships can be manipulative. Your verification skills my be underdeveloped.
 
It can be a lot to think about. That’s why I prefer a small shift in the phrase that may not seem that significant on the surface. but helps me simplify the process. Instead of saying “trust, but verify,” which seemingly breaks the process into separate parts I like to join them together by saying
 
Trust “and” verify.
 
Overall, just remember this is a skill that can be developed through practice and experience.

April 6th – Prepare Yourself For Negativity

I love this concept…

Do you have someone in your life that really makes you mad? A person that grinds your gears so bad you rage inside and out? Who is it? Got a name?

More than likely you have someone in mind, but you are wrong.

You let make yourself mad…. let that sink in. YOU make yourself mad. No one else controls this emotional response and you shouldn’t empower anyone with that level of influence on you.

Now, let’s look at this from the perspective of negativity. The world is full of negative situations, problems, and things to worry about. Here’s the deal, in the face of this negativity, you can elect to be positive. These things swirling around you do not control your negative or positive disposition… YOU do!

Give it a try today and see how it goes.

April 7th – Expect To Change Your Opinions

Going into a situation with your mind made up and dead set on an outcome is a surefire way to miss out on what could likely be the most important information in the decision making process.
 
One of the worst things I’ve seen is when someone puts together a team to solve a problem, with the desired outcome already locked in their mind. Hidden expectations like this will limit the team’s ability to actual solve the problem.
 
It’s a lot like a jury heading into a courtroom with a decision made up facts and circumstances of the case be damned.
 
Expecting to change your opinion from the onset isn’t being weak. It is chance to keep an open mind and seek the information needed to find the best solution to problems.

April 8th – The Cost of Accepting Counterfeits

There are lots things we let into our lives with out assessing their veracity. One of the most dangerous is our own feelings. Trusting our gut and intuition is essential to making external judgement… but when was the last time you felt bad about work, or something going on at home, and then stopped to check the integrity of those feelings.

Just because you “feel” a certain way, or think something is right doesn’t mean you should just go with it all the time. You can and should take a step back and assess the way you feel, find the root of your thoughts, and judge whether or not your feelings are based in rational thought and facts.

If you step back and find that you are dealing with true and honest emotions great! If not, reassess before you act, take control of your emotions before they take control of you.

April 9th – Test Your Impressions

We have a lot of hard wired feelings and emotions that have been developed over thousands of years of biological evolution. Sometimes these “gut feelings” help us out, other times they can get in the way because they bypass our mental processes for decision making and drive us straight into emotional decision making.
 
Developing the skill of stepping back and observing how we are reacting allows us to spot unhealthy or dangerous biases that we are wrongly allowing to influence our actions, decisions, and behaviors.
 
The stoics taught believe that we need to focus on our negative impressions and step back and really ask why we feel or think that way. If there isn’t a logical or good reason to feel the way we do then we should recognize that we are likely being influenced by some type of cognitive bias. Recognizing these biases in our lives then lets us work through them or around them to make better decisions.
 
Give a try, next time something sets you off… step back and diagnose why you feel that way. See if you can spot a hidden bias.

April 10th – Judgements Cause Disturbances

When you let your biases get in front of your decision making you are disturbing and ruining your ability to control your reasoned thoughts.

You can fight against this same way as you would isolate unhealthy emotions from your decision making processes. If you have a bias, or if you sense a bias at play, work hard to isolate the bias and look past it to get to the root of the problem or situation in front of you.

Of course some biases are big and nasty like sexism and racism… but there are other more subtle biases that are influencing you all the time. Something simple like ”
it’s too cold to go for a run”… is it really? How about saying to yourself “I don’t like fish”… this is a BIAS holding you back from the dietary benefits of the omega 3’s in fish!

Seriously, take a look for small and large biases that are holding you back and start working your way through them to make better choices.

April 11th – If You Want To Learn, Be Humble

Easier said than done. The first step in learning anything is accepting that you don’t know it in the first place. The next thing you have to do is understand that you will likely need to go to an expert to learn what you need.

This is a lot like asking for help and if you want to learn you will very likely need to be asking someone for help.

Your ego will get in the way.

Your pride will get in the way.

Fear of the unknown will get in the way.

Get over it, you wanted to learn right?

April 12th – Reject Tantalizing Gifts

If it sounds too good to be true… it probably is too good to be true.

You get what you want through discipline and hard work. If things just fall in your lap, they will likely fall away just as easily.

April 13 – Less Is More

The amount of things in our lives is overwhelming. I get it I try to do a lot and often get buried. But the more you focus on a few key things the better everything else becomes.
 
Out of all the things I do in my day, if I broke it down to the two most influential things in my life they are
 
– Exercise first thing in the morning
 
– Meditate in the morning and afternoon
 
Everything else is simplified when I focus on these two things. The rest of the day starts to fall into place once these two key components are done.

April 14th – Becoming an Expert in What Matters

We willingly through our energy and life focus into so many things. Jobs, hobbies, school, research, games, reading, consuming, stocks, bitcoin and who knows what else.
 
So much energy gets put into everything else that we miss ourselves.
 
I know for a fact I am guilty of this.
 
Taking the time to learn and know yourself. Your thoughts, your habits, your health, your fitness, your goals, and your dreams won’t take away from those other aspects of your life. In fact it will enhance them.
 
You need to be an expert in YOU before you can be an expert in anything else.

April 15th – Pay Your Taxes

We aren’t just talking about the annual income taxes we all pay here, this is abouting paying your dues and your debts.
 
You have to put in the work and pay your taxes to get what you want out of life.
 
Want to be smarter… pay the reading tax.
 
Want to be faster… pay the running tax.
 
Want to be stronger… pay the gym tax.
 
See how this works?
 
What do you want? What is the tax to get it?

April 16th – Observe Cause and Effect

Every action has a reaction, but do we really take the time to observe the intricacies of cause and effect in our own reactions or the reactions of others?
 
This is a bigger deal then we realize. Developing the ability to step back and observe what is going on around a situation is often more important then assessing the direct actions (or inactions) of others.
 
If we stop assuming why things are happening they way they are, and take the time to do the work of understanding the root cause of what is going on, we position ourselves to be of more useful in finding the right solution to the problem.
 
Our immediate reactions (biases) should be tempered by reasoned thought coupled with a change in perspective to try and see the rest of the story.

April 17th – No Harm, No Foul

If you can stop taking things personally, you will start to see that there was no intention of actually doing you harm in the vast majority of “offensive” situations.
 
Take a breath, step back, observe, assess, realize you are still in control of your thoughts and actions.

April 18th – Opinions Are Like….

You know the rest. Opinions are beset us and our ability reason through a situation all the time.

Getting past your opinion to make a rational decision is a skill that needs to be cultivated in order to beat out the biases that keep us from excelling.

April 19th – Our Sphere of Impulses

We all have impulses that are driven by our internal biases. We want things a certain way, we want to do specific things, we have preferences for food and friends, we build our lives around these impulses.

Some of these impulses are good natured, and others can be dangerous.

To protect ourselves from the succumbing to impulses spurred on by negative biases, or unhealthy beliefes or thoughts we must focus on understanding ourselves.

Contemplate why you do the things you do, search out unhealthy impulses… they are likely rooted in a negative bias… and then eliminate them.

Focus on the healthy impulses and cultivate the positive results the grow from them.

April 20th – Real Good Is Simple

I read a book once about personal fiance where the author said something along the lines of “I’ve never seen a money problem solved by adding more zeros to the equation.”
 
The problem is often in what we value, not in wealth. If we start by valuing the intrinsically simple things like virtue, justice, courage, honor, kindness, and community we start to see “money” as more of a fuel that powers the machine and not as the driver.
 
Unfortunately, the world around us implants the “you need more money to be happy bias” through mass media and advertising.
 
This simply isn’t true. You need to value the simple things in life as a foundation to happiness.

April 21st – Don’t Let Your Attention Slide

This is a critical concept to understand and get under control. We are not multitaskers. We are not supposed to be doing more then one thing at a time if we want to be effective.
 
Sure some very rare people possess the ability to switch tasks so rapidly that they seem to be doing everything all at once, but this is the exception not the rule.
 
Task focus, free from distraction is the most effective way to get things done… PERIOD.
 
You need to fight the bias that being busy is good, this is absurd.
 
Being focused is good!
 
So how do you get focused?
 
1. Figure out what needs your attention
2. Remove access to everything else
3. WORK!
 
Step one involves reflection and awareness.
 
Step two requires you to set up a constrained environment that distractions have a hard time penetrating.
 
Step three requires grit, discipline, and hard work!
 
Get after it.

April 22nd – The Marks of a Rational Person

Develop the ability to be self aware, be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and to take deliberate action.

April 23rd – The Mind Is All Yours

Control of your mind is 100% your responsibility. This requires you to cultivate it in a way that biases are recognized and controlled, and that outside influences are assessed and measured.

“Magic” shows are a great example of how susceptible our minds are to bias and influence. We attend a magic show knowing that we are going to be fooled and tricked by displays of illusions, slight of hand, and confidence. Knowing this doesn’t change the fact that our minds get tricked into thinking coins disappear, assistants disappeared, or rabbits magically appear in hats…. our minds are simply being tricked.

If these tricks work when we know they are being played on us, just imagine how effectively our minds can be managed and manipulated by outside sources when we don’t know it is happening. Scary thought isn’t it.

It is inside your control to guard your mind, but it takes discipline and effort.

April 24th – A Productive Use of Contempt

Do you ever find yourself envious, or worse jealous of what others have? The clothes, the cars, the notoriety, the skill, the house, the lifestyle… I could go on for days but you get the point. There are loads of things we desire and when we see others with them it can sometimes lead to unhealthy thoughts and actions on our part.
 
The stoics had a tool for dealing with this. That thing you desire… break it down to it’s base parts. Those clothes are just an assortment of polymer, plan, and animal fibers woven together. The car is just an assortment of metal and plastic. The notoriety is a series of choices and actions, the skill is repetitive practice, the house a bunch of sticks, the lifestyle…. you can go on and on.
 
I hope this gives you a sense of the result of breaking the things down. Mentally, they become less significant which helps break the emotional draw to them.
 
Give it a try and see what happens.

April 25th – There Is Nothing Wrong with Being Wrong

Being wrong is a powerful thing. It means you have the chance to learn something new, fix an error, or solve a problem. This can be a powerful blessing… if you let it.

It can also have dark side. If you let yourself get prideful and angry when you are wrong you risk loosing out on all the benefits.

It is a great idea to seek out help in identifying when and where you are wrong, in both your thinking and actions. Find friends and family that you can trust to be honest and go deep into the things you think and the reasoning behind your actions. Be open to the criticisms, critiques and expanded inputs from others and you will be able to grow faster then you thought possible.

April 26th – Things Happen In Training

There are so many chances to find offense in others actions everyday. But you know what… there is likely very little ill intent in the actions of others.

The vast majority of people are good but their actions will inherently be in the best interest of themselves and those closest to them.

We can recognize this and not add an extra layer of malice to the situation and instead just be aware and cautions that there is a risk of unintended harm.

April 27th – Turn It Inside Out

To really get passed bias we have to develop, and encourage the ability to look at things from as many angles as reasonable before we come to a conclusion. even after the facts have been arrayed, observed, and considered we have to maintain enough awareness to be able consider that things can and do change.

April 28th – Wants Make You A Servant

Pretty simple concept. We get tied down to satisfying our desires.
 
I want to stay connected, so I carry a cell phone all the time.
 
I want to have ____________________, so I over extend my budget or use a credit card.
 
I want to be liked, so I pretend so I fit in.
 
I want to be successful, so I sacrifice family time for work.
 
This isn’t inherently negative. Being a servant to a cause greater then yourself can be good for you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
 
I want my kids to be happy, so I spend time teaching them.
 
I want to help others, so I write about and share my thoughts.
 
I want to provide a good life for my family, so I work hard.
 
Wanting things can definitely be a double edged sword. To avoid the negative side effects identify the things you want in your life, if the consequences isn’t worth it to you then build in your mind a healthy indifference to the desire so that you can take back control.

April 29th – Washing Away the Dust of Life

I love the visual imagery of the dust of life. I picture a craftsman sitting at his workbench sculpting the figure that represents my life. As he works away carving, chipping, and sanding away the material to develop the form underneath he regular stops to clear away the dust to get a better look at his progress and results.
 
Living our lives can generate a lot of dust and we need to clear away the dust to fully assess what is going on around us.

Apr 30th – What Is In Keeping With Your Character?

Education, training, and experiences all help us learn and grow. As we progress down these paths we calibrate, adjust, and eventual fine tune our moral character until we have developed into our best self… and then we continue on, seeking even more education, training, and experiences in order to develop further and further.
 
This is one of the most powerful human traits. We can keep improving day after day, even to our last moment.